Impoverished Kids Revitalize ‘Gangnam Style’

It has received about 1.7 billion YouTube views since its release a year ago, but just when you thought the frenzy over “Gangnam Style” was dying down, the hit has gone viral again with a new parody by impoverished Phnom Penh kids racking up almost 200,000 hits since it was posted Friday.

It took 15 days for French filmmaker Jean-Luc Nguyen to recreate the iconic video by South Korean pop star Psy, which features 160 school children and was produced by French-run NGO Taramana. Since 2005, the NGO has been providing educational, nutritional and medical assistance to children and families in Russei Keo commune’s Boeng Salang slum.

French filmmaker Jean-Luc Nguyen directs students from the Taramana Center in Phnom Penh's Russei Keo district as they perform Korean pop song 'Gangnam Style' for a parody video that has received almost 200,000 hits on Youtube since it was posted Friday. (The Taramana Center)
French filmmaker Jean-Luc Nguyen directs students from the Taramana Center in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district as they perform Korean pop song ‘Gangnam Style’ for a parody video that has received almost 200,000 hits on Youtube since it was posted Friday. (The Taramana Center)

“These kids live in extremely basic conditions but are full of talent and potential. We wanted to give them an opportunity to express themselves through an artistic and fun project,” said Mr. Nguyen, who volunteered to direct the video, which despite its slick production quality cost less than $400 to produce.

Dr. Jocelyn Dorde, founder and director of Taramana, said that the idea for the parody came after 14-year-old Sovann Dara recorded a short video clip of himself and some of the other children doing the Gangnam Style dance on his mobile phone, and he thought: Why not make it on a larger scale?

“Maybe people are fed up with this song by now, but the kids really love it and we wanted them all to be able to participate in the project because we want them to believe in themselves,” Dr. Dorde said.

The video shows children performing Psy’s horse dance against the backdrop of some of Phnom Penh’s most recognizable locations: the Royal Palace, Wat Phnom and Independence Monument.

According to Dr. Dorde—who along with the rest of the NGO’s management team works on a volunteer basis—the goal of the video was never to attract funding.

“We didn’t want to make a film about children crying or looking sad because they are not—they are happy kids once you give them encouragement,” he said. He added that the $4,800 donated to Taramana thus far as a direct result of the video will be used to take the children for a holiday to Sihanoukville and Koh Rong—the first time many of them will see the sea.

Perhaps the most endearing parts of the video project are the behind-the-scenes clips, which show the children—both enrapt and in fits of laughter—watching the video for the first time.

“It was very exciting to make the video because even the small children were involved,” said 18-year-old Din Vuthny, who appeared in the video.

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